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Cougar Football Joining GNAC

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May 31, 2011
Joe Reinsch

AZUSA, Calif. –- Azusa Pacific University has found a home for its football program, announcing its intention to accept associate membership for football in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) beginning with the 2012 season, upon acceptance of the university’s NCAA Division II application and a campus visit from GNAC officials later this summer. The alignment of the Cougar football program into an NCAA Division II conference will mark the first time in Azusa Pacific’s 46-year football history that it has held a conference membership.

"The GNAC is a natural fit for us, and the greatest excitement for me is that Azusa Pacific football can compete for a conference championship," Director of Athletics Bill Odell said. "This alignment allows us to stay on the West Coast to develop football rivalries where each game means something. I think this move to a strong conference will continue to help the growth and development of our football program."

Since winning the 1998 NAIA national title in the program's first-ever football playoff appearance, Azusa Pacific has made another 6 NAIA playoff appearances, including 4 trips to the postseason since 2003. The Cougars' seven playoff appearances since 1998 ranks tenth among NAIA football programs, and Azusa Pacific is one of 14 NAIA schools with four football playoff appearances since 2003.

The Cougars' football tradition includes an all-time record of 224-207-6, with 23 winning campaigns (20 winning seasons since 1980). In addition, Azusa Pacific was the college home of former NFL players Christian Okoye, a 1987 second-round draft choice of the Kansas City Chiefs who was the NFL's rushing leader and AFC Player of the Year in 1989, as well as Doug Barnett, a defensive tackle who had a 6-year professional career with the Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta Falcons, and Washington Redskins.

"We are excited to have Azusa Pacific University join our conference in football," GNAC commissioner Richard Hannan said. "Azusa Pacific represents a tremendous addition to GNAC football, and we are pleased that they have chosen to bring their tradition of success into our conference."

The GNAC will formalize Azusa Pacific's membership following a visit to the Azusa campus in August, and the Cougars will compete for one more season as an NAIA independent in 2011 before becoming the sixth football-playing GNAC member in 2012. Azusa Pacific will be immediately eligible for the conference championship along with individual weekly and postseason awards, competing against Dixie State (Utah) College and Humboldt State University, also associate members of the GNAC, plus full conference members Central Washington University, Western Oregon University, and Simon Fraser (B.C.) University.

One of Azusa Pacific's longest running rivalries is with future conference rival Humboldt State, a series led by HSU, 15-8, that dates back to the mid-1980s. Dixie State and Azusa Pacific have split four previous meetings, all in the past five years, and in 2009, the Cougars played all four of the GNAC's football-playing members that season.

About Azusa Pacific

Azusa Pacific has won six consecutive Directors' Cup championships at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) level, recognizing the Cougar intercollegiate athletics program as the best in the NAIA, and it expects to claim an unprecedented seventh later this month following a successful 2010-11 campaign that produced participants in national championship events in 16 of the Cougars' 17 NAIA championship sports. The Cougars have won 34 NAIA championships all-time, along with 104 Golden State Athletic Conference titles since becoming a charter member of the GSAC when the NAIA-affiliated conference formed in 1986. In addition, Azusa Pacific produced the most NAIA Scholar Teams of the top 10 schools in the 2009-10 Directors' Cup standings.

About The Great Northwest Athletic Conference

The Great Northwest Athletic Conference, which is comprised of 10 schools located in five U.S. states and one Canadian province, has established itself as one of the top NCAA Division II conferences during its brief 10-year history.

The conference, which was officially founded on July 1, 2001, includes four schools in the state of Washington – Central Washington University, Saint Martin’s University, Seattle Pacific University and Western Washington University.

The GNAC also includes the University of Alaska Anchorage, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Montana State University Billings, Northwest Nazarene University (Idaho), Western Oregon University and Simon Fraser University (British Columbia).

Humboldt State University (Calif.) and Seattle University were charter members of the conference but left following the 2005-06 and 2007-08 seasons, respectively.

MSU Billings joined the GNAC on July 1, 2007. Simon Fraser, which began play in the GNAC last fall, is the first Canadian institution to be granted NCAA and GNAC membership.

The GNAC sponsors championships in eight men’s and eight women’s sports, including football, volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, men’s and women’s golf, softball, men’s and women’s indoor track-and-field and men’s and women’s outdoor track-and-field. Humboldt State and Dixie State are currently affiliate members of the GNAC for football.